MP3's are (almost) free!
Arthur Kalliokoski
Johan Halmén

We have struggled with C-cassettes, colour tv standards, narrow band digital tv channels and whatnot. Compared to all that, mp3 and its shortcomings in quality is nothing. I think mp3 is great. It's not often that I notice that mp3 is the real bottle neck in sound quality. It happens, but not often. The bottle neck is usually crappy speakers or loud tires or engine sounds.

I've used Lame for years. Will that be obsolete now? I downloaded MuseScore 2.1, released in May. It exports mp3, as did earlier versions, but I can't locate lame_enc.dll anymore on my computer. It might have disappeared with the update, if I had it lying in the MuseScore folder.

Gideon Weems

First GIF, then MP3, then... How many decent file formats remain patented anyhow?

Aaron Bolyard

Off the top of my head: H.264, HEVC, FAT?

Chris Katko

I've used Lame for years. Will that be obsolete now?

Why would LAME be obsolete? It's a GNU/FOSS project. Unless you mean the "official" encoder will somehow be available but LAME does 99.99999% (or 100%?) perfect results why even bother. It's not like you can optimize an MP3 the way you can a C++ compiled binary.

Bruce Perry

Do you say 'almost' because you still have to pay for the music itself?

Those news outlets have embarrassed themselves, haven't they? Patent law isn't hard ::)

[EDIT]
Well actually, it probably is, but this particular concept isn't.

Chris Katko

I've been seeing countless articles written on the MP3 subject with ZERO knowledge of anything. They all make it ambiguous like the MP3 format will somehow be "unavailable" or "broken".

Yeah, like we're all unable to run DOS games because Microsoft doesn't make DOS anymore. ::)

Gideon Weems
Quote:

H.264

Ah, this is a big one. I've yet to find a lossless codec that comes anywhere near the compression ratio of libx264... which is GPL... which... hey, how do software patents work, anyhow?

Neil Roy

I'll stick with OGG for my game audio format. It's far superior. I may even take the time to convert my MP3s to it one of these days.

Chris Katko

I've heard OGG (and all/most modern codecs) is superior. MP3 only exists because of past, universal support. So yeah, use OGG.

AAC is a successor to MP3 by the same company (but not FOSS).

Some people have stated OGG has some noticable artifacting at lower bitrates.

FLAC is lossless.

Also people mention is another Vorbis'ish codec for fast streaming audio / phones / skype / etc that remains very high quality / legible for voice at insanely low codecs. I don't recall it off the top of my head. (edit: OPUS, apparently Skype worked with the Vorbis guys to make it. It's an open format.)

If I release a game, I'd probably run OGG or FLAC. MP3 is really only useful if you want to support really old stuff like MP3 players. If you're designing new software, there's no real advantage that I'm aware of.

Neil Roy

Some people have stated OGG has some noticable artifacting at lower bitrates.

I don't know about that. I have used OGG for a wide variety of bitrates and I have always had a difficult time noticing any quality difference at all. I have certainly never heard any artifacting and I have quite a few OGGs I have converted for my own games.

I haven't had a problem with software supporting OGGs either so I honestly see no reason at all to use MP3s anymore. I'll usually use Audacity to convert samples to OGGs or whatever.

Eric Johnson

MP3 is really only useful if you want to support really old stuff like MP3 players.

Unless you're developing for the Web (HTML5). MP3 is the only audio format that is supported by all major browsers. So for Web-related works, MP3 is the way to go. WAV is a close second in terms of support, followed closely then by OGG. Why anyone would use WAV for anything though is beyond me...

Neil Roy

Why anyone would use a browser that doesn't support OGG or other modern formats that have been around for a long time now is beyond me...

Eric Johnson

That's true, but I included IE and Safari, which don't support OGG, when I said "all major browsers". IE is dead, but lots of folks still use it, and Safari's been dead on Windows for years now. Is Safari still actively maintained on Mac?

Polybios

While we're at it, does anybody know a decent site where you can buy music in high quality formats like flac maybe? There doesn't seem to be a market for it.

I've recently proven to a collector of vinyl records that I can make an acceptable digital recording of one of his beloved LPs even with my notebook. I found the bought mp3 of one of the songs to sound considerably worse than my 24 bit 96kbps recording of his record. I admit I don't know much about these things, though.

Kitty Cat

Also people mention is another Vorbis'ish codec for fast streaming audio / phones / skype / etc that remains very high quality / legible for voice at insanely low codecs. I don't recall it off the top of my head. (edit: OPUS, apparently Skype worked with the Vorbis guys to make it. It's an open format.)

There's actually two. Speex is codec designed to compress voice by taking advantage of how voice waveforms are constructed. Opus seems to be the successor to Vorbis as a more generalized (lossy) codec.

That's true, but I included IE and Safari, which don't support OGG

Didn't MS actually start supporting Ogg in their browser?

Eric Johnson
Kitty Cat said:

Didn't MS actually start supporting Ogg in their browser?

As far as I know, not in IE, but maybe so in Edge.

Felix-The-Ghost

Will mp3 start being bundled with software such as Audacity without an external download?

Neil Roy

Vinyl records will always be better than digital recordings, simply due to the fact that are analog. The way digital works is that it takes samples of the sound at regular intervals. Analog records the entire sound so it will always be better. Just like computer equipment, you can get really good and poor record players, with different heads etc.

With good playback equipment, you can definitely hear the difference between sampled and analog. Though personally, I am fine with computer MP3s or OGG. I use OGG for my games because you can get better quality for the same file size as MP3s. I found that OGGs sound great even at the lowest quality setting, I honestly couldn't hear the difference, but the file size was amazingly small.

One format I still prefer for my game music, is Amiga MOD files! :) They are amazingly small and still sound great. I recently downloaded Protracker for Windows, a remake that looks identical and may try my hand at making my own MODs for my games. :)

Chris Katko

There are definitely sites that sell FLAC. I don't recall them because I very rarely by music (considering YouTube is basically free). But I've gotten FLAC versions of various albums from more niche markets like Nine inch Nails and Saul Williams who were trying to pioneer alternative music distribution and high-fidelity music (I've got With Teeth in 24-bit/192 KHZ DVD audio).

But niche bands aside, I know there are sites out there. FLAC is the new vinyl. Amazon may even let you buy certain digital downloads in FLAC format.

OH, many Humble Bundles and TONS of GOG games include FLAC versions of audio. System Shock 2, Slave Zero, etc. Good stuff. I'm a huge fan of game soundtracks and I literally just listened to a Deus Ex song not five minutes ago. I find game music to be very exciting and--unlike songs with lyrics--open to interpretation. You can literally close your eyes while listening to the beautiful Moscow Symphony Orchestra playing the soundtrack to Outcast, and imagine you're anywhere. A miriade of different adventures. Something about that music, whether inherent, or merely nostalgic (a reminder of simpler times when all you cared about was the next game to play at the LAN party and running out of soda), I'm not sure. But I like it.

Come to think of it, perhaps those lack of lyrics also help not affect my ADD/ADHD. I have trouble focusing and the beats seem to help, but when lyrics come in (especially with new songs I haven't heard before) the lyrics become a distraction--like a person in the room trying to have a conservation with me while I work.

But that's getting far off-topic. So forgive my bout of introspection.

As for Neil: Come on man. I know you're an elder (;)) and I respect the perspective that comes with age, but certainly you must know that vinyl recorders were SAMPLED at a specific frequency range, and each PHYSICAL component also has a frequency response range. So, it may be more pleasing to the ear to have the special errors introduced by traditional vinyl equipment (which still hasn't been A/B blind proven AFAIK), but they physically cannot have a higher quality.

What your hearing is likely more nostalgia than anything. The warmth of remembering your first record, listening next to family members, physically playing around with the buttons, etc.

You can't have a higher quality than what you start with. If the recording chain (mic to pre-amp to amp to mixer to recorder) has any limitations at any point, it becomes a least common denominator. The worst part controls the limits of the mix. And we've NEVER lived at a time where equipment has been as high quality for that cheap. People in their basements have better recording systems than Van Hahen and Elvis ever had access to.

There WAS a time where digital sounded WAY WORSE than analog and you had to choose between the configuration and power of digital, verses the quality of analog. But those days went away with the end of the 80's. When digital samples were so low bitrate they actually combined them with analog signals to create their sounds. (e.g. The Roland MT-32 was actually a prosumer musicians card--not a game soundtrack machine. The samples were complete crap quality by today's standards but they were combined with an FM module so that the digital sample played the start of the "instrument" and faded out into an FM which held the sustain or faded away.)

Really, if you want great sound, grab a pair of good (not expensive... just good) headphones and plug them in. Even crappy SNES music sounds twice as good when you create a controlled environment for your ears. (That is, headphones know the space your ears will be in, while speakers sound different in every room and even if you add a piece of furniture.)

[edit] Holy crap, I didn't realize how much I wrote. Man, I miss my music writing days and the free spirit of youth before I had "a mortgage" to think about.

Kitty Cat
Neil Roy said:

The way digital works is that it takes samples of the sound at regular intervals.

And according to the sampling theorem, when a signal is sampled at a rate of n times per second, all frequencies up to n/2 can be captured and reconstructed perfectly. And as the upper limit of human hearing is about 20khz (for young healthy ears in prime condition; older people, or people with listening fatigue or whatnot, will be lower), that means digital audio at 44.1khz is more than capable of handling everything we can hear. And properly controlled experiments with blind A/B testing has shown this numerous times.

If anything, you may claim the opposite is true. Analog circuitry is lossy. There is no such thing as a perfect analog filter. And while digital processing is lossy as well, you have more control over quality vs performance. Often, the biggest problems facing digital audio is the quality of the capture or playback hardware... the analog parts.

Which relates to playback equipment. An analog speaker that's not designed to handle ultrasonic frequencies will introduce aliasing noise in the audible frequency range if given them. So if you're playing audio that isn't properly band-limited, you have to spend more on speakers that can either reproduce those frequencies you can't hear, or have circuitry (again, lossy) to filter them out itself.

Quote:

One format I still prefer for my game music, is Amiga MOD files! :) They are amazingly small and still sound great.

It depends entirely on what you're using to play it. Play it in ModPlug or ProTracker or whatever, and it will sound different compared to something like DUMB, for example. It will also sound different if you have different quality resamplers or DSP effects selected. The same applies to MIDI files; it will sound different if you play it in FluidSynth, Timidity, or MS's Synth.

MOD files do have the advantage of being able to store the specific instrument samples in the file so there's no mistaking what to use, but this has drawbacks as well. Every file needs to contain its instrument samples, and if multiple files use the same instrument they all need to hold separate copies of the same sounds. And if you want good quality sound, that's going to mean larger and more samples for a given instrument. For game music where you're going to have multiple tracks, it's better to just hold the instrument samples in a separate sound bank, or a 'sound font' if you will, and have the music files play with that using your preferred software synth.

Chris Katko

I wonder if anyone ever made a "split" module format that supported external samples for instruments. Possibly an internal game format.

File sizes probably quickly become so much of a non-issue, that it was never needed I guess. Even if you have 1 MB modules, the chances of you re-using exact samples is only going to save you a tiny amount of space compared to just compressing the waveforms. Especially since many modules--even with the same samples--may have individually "tweaked" the samples by cutting/trimming/looping them differently.

Plus, the added complexity of forcing a "linking stage" adds programming development time as well as toolchain complexity for the musicians having to manage their "sample databases."

Still, neat idea. But even Command and Conquer in 1995 used full ADPCM audio (though at relatively low quality). So as soon as "CD" games became available, the module format was doomed to death. Whether with Red Book audio (audio burned onto an audio track on the CD) or compressed full waveform.

ALSO, one other thing. Writing modules is more akin to PROGRAMMING than 99% of music software out there today. So musicians would need to be able to understand computers fairly well, understand the module format fairly well, AND be a musician. Especially when games were low-budget, smaller team affairs. This all combined to push toward a simpler: "Record [existing tape/WAV] music to a PC compressed format." Oh, and of course, the module format FORCED you into a particular style of music. Just like FM and MIDI music, only certain stuff sounds good (techno/rave music), and if you go outside that and try for general, creative music with no boundaries, you'll hit boundaries pretty fast.

Sidestory: For a proof-of-concept, as a kid, I actually once made a 12 minute song, "Confusion by New Order" from the Blade Soundtrack (the club song from the beginning) into a mod file that was... like 300 KB. It blew my friend's mind. But that song is so repetitive (techno) that I basically just clipped loops of each unique section and played them back at the right BPM.

Nowadays, you could probably write software to find matching sections and replay them. Almost like a waveform version of a ZIP with a "dictionary" and maybe even "dictionary + deltas" for waveforms that are slightly different. But alas, the Space Wars (hah, a pun...) have basically given us unlimited file space. I've literally played 20-26 GB games on Steam. (Although, WTF is wrong with you if you have a 26 GB game? Am I REALLY to believe all that space is being used carefully and that my game is going to look 20 GB better than a 6 GB game?)

Gideon Weems

I wonder if anyone ever made a "split" module format that supported external samples for instruments.

MED2. It is obscure.

Of course, what's not obscure is jamming all your songs into a single IT file and splitting them with +++ patterns.

Kitty Cat

I wonder if anyone ever made a "split" module format that supported external samples for instruments. Possibly an internal game format.

I believe I've heard of a game that used something like that. Some kind of archive that contained the samples and the songs that used them. But when you get to that level, the distinction between mods and midi (especially when played with software synths) become blurred. They both do the same thing -- prepare premade instrument samples then use commands to tell the synthesizer what to do, what instruments to play when, and how to change them as they play.

Quote:

But even Command and Conquer in 1995 used full ADPCM audio (though at relatively low quality). So as soon as "CD" games became available, the module format was doomed to death. Whether with Red Book audio (audio burned onto an audio track on the CD) or compressed full waveform.

There's still benefits to using MIDI or MIDI-like music, aside from space/size. When you can control the commands about how to play the music, you can dynamically change it in ways that a prerendered audio couldn't dream of. Alter the tempo in real-time without changing the pitch or instrument envelope, remove or reduce different instruments from a greater whole, change an instrument, proper looping, dynamic environments, etc. Sure, the quality of real-time rendered music may not be as high as prerendered, but it's hardly unlistenable, and you can make it quite impressive sounding if you care to. It's the usual real-time vs prerendered tradeoff you see elsewhere, and if you take advantage of the real-time nature of it, it can beat prerendered.

Chris Katko
Kitty Cat said:

When you can control the commands about how to play the music, you can dynamically change it in ways that a prerendered audio couldn't dream of.

That's a good point. However, the mere act of that takes the game into a territory humans still don't understand that 99% of games don't want to tackle. Computer generated music, as well as predicting the player's current mental state in order to select the right music.

How many of us have played a game where "tense" music starts when bad guys are attacking you... except the music starts BEFORE you even know the bad guy is attacking so it's like some stupid alarm going off that takes any of the real suspense away. It was supposed to add suspense and actually removes it.

Kitty Cat

How many of us have played a game where "tense" music starts when bad guys are attacking you... except the music starts BEFORE you even know the bad guy is attacking so it's like some stupid alarm going off that takes any of the real suspense away. It was supposed to add suspense and actually removes it.

That's actually a problem prerendered music has when trying to act dynamically. Because it's fundamentally different tracks, the change is going to be abrupt and noticeable. However, with real-time music, the changes can be more subtle and happen over time. For example, increase the tempo by some amount relative to the proximity to an enemy, fade out some instruments for others depending on the number of enemies and their relative difficulty. Subtle and gradual changes to the music can add to the suspense, even if you don't realize it's happening.

It doesn't even have to be related to enemies. You can have the music smoothly change as you move between areas. Add or take away individual components of the track depending on events that have occurred in the game. Nintendo, and in the past Rare, could do this very well, to the point most people don't even realize it happening. The music just changes subtly and naturally, adding to the atmosphere without jumping up in the player's face. Mick Gordon tries to do something similar with his music by splicing prerendered segments together dynamically (as done with the Killer Instinct reboot, and the Doom reboot), but given the nature of the prerendered segments, it's fairly limited compared to proper real-time music.

Chris Katko
Kitty Cat said:

That's actually a problem prerendered music has when trying to act dynamically.

No, I mean, I get that point. My point is the DETECTION of events is handled poorly. Whether it was dynamic music or not, the system tracking you and firing off "change music excitement level" wasn't written with psychology / game experience in mind. It CAN be handled well, but those are so few and far inbetween it feels like.

Quote:

It doesn't even have to be related to enemies.

I know, that was just one example. I do like how the same melody fades between areas in Banjo and Kazoiie (IIRC). From one instrument like a flute, to a steel drum/tropical theme just by walking away. And it's a smooth fade.

Kitty Cat

It CAN be handled well, but those are so few and far inbetween it feels like.

Tends to be the game industry as a whole. For any particular thing, there's generally only a couple companies/developers that do it well, while others are poor to decent. But real-time dynamic music is a fun thing to play around with IMO, and who knows who may gain a knack for it.

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